My Ravens journey began in the summer of 1993 thanks to RAF Chicksands. RAF Chicksands was a US Air Force base in Bedfordshire, primarily known for its huge antenna used for radio communications and gathering intelligence across Europe. The Cold War was ending but Chicksands still needed US servicemen to staff the base in the meantime.
And so it was that a family from Baltimore moved to rural Bedfordshire. Most families chose to live within the confines of the base, with other service families and with familiar home comforts – American food, American stores, American accents. The Savarese family, however, chose to move into a nearby village so they could properly experience English life. As luck would have it, they moved next door to my family.
The neighbourhood was instantly smitten by our exotic newcomers. We were all stunned when the kids came out to play in tracksuit trousers during what was, for us, a warm summer’s day. It was only a few years later when I experienced a proper Baltimore summer for the first time that I understood why.
As a 12-year-old, my experience of the NFL was largely limited to highlights of Dan Marino and Joe Montana, as well as John Madden Football on my Sega MegaDrive. I had no idea that Baltimore didn’t have a team and knew nothing of the rancour caused by the Colts moving to Indianapolis in 1984.
The Savareses moved to Germany in 1995 and then back to Maryland in 1997, but our families remained in touch. My parents went to the opening game at what is now M&T Bank Stadium, but due to school, university and a new career, my visits were largely confined to summers and so my live sporting experiences were limited to the Orioles.
I followed the Ravens back home as much as I could, though it is obviously much easier now than it used to be. Finally, in 2012, I arranged to go and see the Savareses for a few days in September, taking in the Orioles v Yankees on the Saturday and having proper Old Bay crabs before the opening game of the season on Monday Night Football against the Bengals.
It couldn’t have been a better experience for my first live game – a glorious late summer day, a few cold beers at the tailgate, where I met the Ravens cheerleaders, then a primetime game under the lights.
The game itself had everything. The Ravens had suffered heartbreak against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game in January that year and were determined to make amends. Before Ray Rice was Bad Ray Rice, he showed his importance to the team with two rushing TDs; Anquan Boldin had a 34-yard TD reception, and the great Ed Reed had the same yardage for a TD interception return.
Dennis Pitta also scored, whilst an undrafted free agent kicker by the name of Justin Tucker showed pretty decent promise on debut to help banish memories of Billy Cundiff’s Patriots miss. A 44-13 victory, with an offense making huge plays when it mattered and an ageing defense that bent but didn’t break, set the tone for a Super Bowl winning season.
What struck me most was the extraordinary atmosphere in the Bank: it was the 9/11 commemoration so there was a military flyover; there were first game fireworks; the noise generated on defensive third-downs and the comparative silence on offensive plays was remarkable.
My one regret was that I didn’t get a matchday programme, and at one point during the first half I asked a couple in front if I could take a quick look at theirs. Picking up on my accent, they asked where I was from, and I said I’d flown over from England for the game. They immediately told me the programme was mine. As it later proved in London, once you’re in The Flock, you’re in for life.
Photo: Beth Tenser
What a weekend lineup for your first American sports experience.